Dr Sarah James is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval Literature at the University of Kent.Her research interests are centred around theological writing in the later Middle Ages, asking questions about the ways in which medieval writers engaged with the religious debates of the day, and how ordinary people, for the most part with very limited access to written texts, experienced religion. Her latest publication is Pastoral Care in Medieval England: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Routledge, 2018).
Dives and Pauper is a fascinating late medieval text. It was one of the earliest books printed in England, as well as surviving in eight manuscripts and four fragments dating to the fifteenth century. This treatise on the Ten Commandments takes the form of a dialogue between Dives, who is a wealthy lay man, and Pauper, a preacher and probably a friar. These debaters in the text explore several issues including the use of images in worship, the validity of the Church hierarchy, oaths and oath-breaking, and the paying of tithes. In her talk Sarah James explores the ways in which the author uses debate to both clarify and obscure questions that were considered to be markers of religious orthodoxy and heresy in fifteenth-century England, and asks whether the text’s ambiguity in dealing with these questions contributed to its ‘popularity’.